The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Wrath of God

After the reading of the epistle and before the reading of the Gospel in the traditional liturgy for the Requiem Mass – the funeral service of the Roman Catholic and many High Anglican churches – comes a long hymn entitled Dies Irae, which means “The Day of Wrath”. The words to the hymn go back at least as far as the thirteenth century and it has been set to music by countless composers. The final two lines of the hymn are often sung independently of the rest. (1) For fans of Monty Python this is what the monks in Quest for the Holy Grail who kept hitting their foreheads with their books were chanting. The hymn in its entirety speaks of the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgement, pleading for Christ’s propiatory mercy apart from which no one shall stand on that day.

Nothing illustrates the difference between modern and pre-modern thinking like this hymn. To the modern way of thinking a funeral is not the time or place to be talking, let alone singing, about God’s wrath and judgement. Even fundamentalist churches do not typically include preaching on hell at funerals. Other forms of modern theology do away with the subject of the wrath of God altogether. Theological liberalism, which is always glorying in how much more advanced its views of God are over the “primitive” views of Christians of previous centuries, thus demonstrating that its faith is in a deity of its own construction, i.e., an idol, rather than the eternal and unchanging God Who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, regards the wrath of God as just such a “primitive” concept and consequently, has a similar attitude towards the propiatory, atoning, sacrifice of Christ upon the Christ. Others may not go as far as this but have problems with the idea of the wrath of God because they see it as being inconsistent with Christ’s teachings about God being a loving and forgiving Father. Some display their ignorance of the actual content of the New Testament by suggesting that the wrath of God is an Old Testament concept, imported into Christianity against the teachings of Jesus, by the ex-Pharisee St. Paul. No better answer to these can be found than the following words by that archnemesis of chronological snobbery, C. S. Lewis:

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that St Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles).

This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St Paul. If it could be proved that St Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed.
But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St Paul’s. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels came later. They are not ‘the gospel’, the statement of the Christian belief. They were written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted ‘the gospel’. They leave out many of the ‘complications’ (that is, the theology) because they are intended for readers who have already been instructed in it. In that sense the Epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels-though not, of course, than the great events which the Gospels recount. God’s act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the Epistles: then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord’s sayings. The ordinary popular conception has put everything upside down.

Modern thinkers are not, however, the first to think that the concept of the wrath of God is out of sync with the God of love preached by Christianity. In the early centuries of the church many concluded that there was an inconsistency between the wrath displayed by YHWH in the Old Testament and the love of God proclaimed by Christ in the New Testament. This led them into Gnosticism, which maintained that the God of the Old Testament was not the Father God proclaimed by Christ but an inferior deity, the Demiurge. This was one of the earliest heresies to develop. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose primary surviving work is his late second century treatise against the versions of Gnosticism known to him, especially Valentinianism, (3) traced it back to Simon Magus, whom St. Peter encountered in Acts 8. The “antichrists” denounced by St. John in his first and second epistles seem to have been proponents of this heresy. Marcion of Sinope took this doctrine so far as to reject most of the New Testament as well as the Old. His “Bible” consisted of an abridged version of the Gospel according to St. Luke and ten of St. Paul’s epistles.

Gnosticism was nonsense, of course. In answering Gnosticism, with the Creedal affirmation that God the Father of Jesus Christ is the “maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible”, i.e., the God of the Old Testament Who created the material as well as the spiritual world, the orthodox, Apostolic, Christian Church simply reiterated what Jesus Christ Himself had taught regarding the authoritative Scriptures of the Old Testament and the God revealed therein. Furthermore, as noted by Lewis in the above quotation, there was plenty of wrath and judgement in Jesus’ own teachings. Indeed, as we shall see, far from it being the case that the wrath and judgement of God contradict the Christian doctrine of the love, mercy, and grace of God, it is rather the truth that the Gospel in which the latter are revealed is incomprehensible apart from the Law’s revelation of the wrath of God.

Before considering the wrath of God, however, let us take not of an important point about how we are to understand the Scriptures’ attribution to God of qualities that are possessed by humans and other created beings. These can be understood either univocally, equivocally, or analogically. If we understand them univocally, this means that we understand the same word to be identical in meaning when applied to God as applied to man. If we understand them equivocally, however, this means that we consider the qualities predicated of God to be entirely different except in name from those in man. Orthodox theologians have long rejected the univocal and equivocal views in favour of the analogical, which means that when the Scriptures ascribe to God a quality that is present in man, the quality so described is not identical to the one found in man, differing from it in both manner and degree, but with enough similarity between the two, that the term denoting the human quality provides an adequate picture of the corresponding quality in God, so that something meaningful and comprehensible can thereby be communicated about God. (4)

The reason this is important is because the word wrath means intense anger, particularly as expressed in retributive punishment against the object of wrath. In human beings anger is an emotion, a response in us prompted by something that has displeased us which, if we allow it to influence our actions without being itself governed and moderated by our reason, results in bad and inappropriate behaviour. To attribute wrath to God univocally, would be to say that His response to our sin is an emotional outburst. This is clearly not acceptable to orthodoxy because the suggestion that God is susceptible to emotional outbursts and that our actions can produce a change within Him, contradicts His immutability. An equivocal understanding of the wrath of God, however, would be meaningless and incomprehensible.

Therefore, when St. Paul writes that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) this has to be understood analogically. God’s wrath resembles human anger in some ways but must not be thought of as an emotion. Like human anger, God’s wrath demands the punishment of its objects but, unlike human anger, is not an emotional response but the expression of an aspect of God’s immutable character. If you are tempted to find in this truth some sort of comfort for impenitent sinners seeking security in their carnality then you need to think over it more thoroughly. In human beings, punishment out of anger can be unjustly severe because anger clouds human judgement causing us to exact more than justice requires – which is why human civilizations build their justice systems upon the foundation of principles that place limits on the penalties that can be exacted from offenders. (5) Paradoxically, however, human anger, being a changeable emotion, is quickly exhausted. Wrath that is an expression of something that is immutable in God is not – hence the Scriptural imagery describing that wrath in terms of “their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”, “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.”

The immutable quality of the character of God that when directed towards sinners is expressed as what the Scriptures call the wrath of God is His justice. God’s justice is one aspect of His perfect goodness. God is perfectly good and righteous, and the Sovereign Lord over all He created. We, His creation, were created good and righteous, and we owe it to our Sovereign Lord to remain that way. God’s justice is the facet of His goodness that requires that we pay this debt. We, however, failed to meet our obligation, corrupted ourselves, and fell into sin, rebellion, and disobedience. The same justice that rightly requires righteousness of us now rightly demands a penalty from us for our sin. That penalty, the Scriptures speak of as death – the spiritual death that describes our condition of being spiritually alienated from God, the physical death that ends our earthly lives, and the second death which is eternal. The wrath of God is His exactment from us of the penalty that His justice demands for our sin.

The wrath of God is not an outdated doctrine to be done away with but is absolutely essential to sound theology. Without the wrath that expresses His justice towards sin, His justice and therefore His goodness, would be less than perfect and complete. If His goodness is less than perfect in this aspect, then the perfection of other aspects of His goodness, such as His love, are also compromised. Indeed, the fact that God’s love is so widely considered to be incompatible with His wrath, shows just how much the doctrine of His love has been compromised. What many, probably most, people think of today when they hear the expression “the love of God” is love in the watered-down modern sense of some sappy, sentimental, feeling. By contrast, the love of God spoken of in the Scriptures, is His benevolent good-will towards His creation, which is not simply an empty sentiment, but which translates into positive action.

If we reject the idea of the wrath of God, compromising the justice that lies behind that wrath, and so compromising the love of God by reducing it to an empty sentiment, than we strip the Gospel of its meaning and rob the forgiveness offered in the Gospel of its value. For many today, forgiveness means something along the lines of “letting it slide.” The person who forgives in this sense says to the person who has wronged him “forget about it” or “its no big deal”. In other words, he makes light of the offense and trivializes it. This is not the forgiveness spoken of in the Scriptures – either the forgiveness offered to us in the Gospel, or the forgiveness required of us towards others. The Scriptures make it quite clear that God “will by no means clear the guilty.” (Ex. 34:7, Num. 14:18) This means that He will not just dismiss our sin, pretend that it is not serious or of no consequence. God’s justice demands that sin be paid for and God never offers us any sort of forgiveness that just sets His justice aside. This is why forgiveness is only extended to us on the grounds that Someone else paid our debt for us.

In John 3:16, which is rightly the most familiar and loved verse in all the Bible, aptly dubbed “the Gospel in a nutshell”, we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word translated “so” in this verse does not mean so in the sense of extent, as in “so much”, “so many”, “so large”, although undoubtedly the verse as a whole conveys a sense of that, but rather means “so” in the sense of manner, as in “thus”, “so” or “in this way.” (6) The verse is telling us that the way in which God loved the world was by giving us His Son that all who believe in Him will have everlasting life. St. Paul makes it clear to us how God’s giving us His Son accomplishes this end:

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

To forgive someone in the truest sense of the word, not the watered down sense of trivializing the offence and “letting it slide”, means that the forgiver takes the burden of paying the damages caused by the injury he is forgiving upon himself. The words “redemption” and “propitiation” in this passage both have connotations of a price being paid for our being justified, i.e., accepted as righteous by God which includes the idea of our sins being forgiven. Redemption suggests the idea of payment for release from bondage. Propitiation, however, means the payment that satisfies the offended justice – the wrath – of God. (7) This, St. Paul explicitly declares, is the only way God could be just Himself while acquitting and justifying the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ – by voluntarily bearing the guilt of all of our sins upon Himself as He hung upon the Cross and allowing His Own wrath to be exhausted upon Himself, paying the debt that we owed, thus satisfying the demands of His justice against us once and for all.

Without an appreciation of the reality of the wrath of God against sin as the expression of His offended and infinite justice we cannot have even the most basic understanding of the significance of what Jesus Christ did for us at the Cross. Without the humble and contrite acknowledgement that the wrath of God is exactly what we deserve as sinners – not just a “sure nobody’s perfect” which really only means “I have my problems but I’m good enough” – that is produced in us by the Law, the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit persuades us of the truth of Who Jesus is, what He did for us, and the grace – freely given favour – in which we stand because of Jesus, will bounce right off of us without forming in us the faith which is the only means by which we can receive that grace.

Perhaps the medieval Church got it right after all, in placing several stanzas of wrath and judgement just before the reading of the Gospel, in services for departed loved ones, whose deaths remind us of our own mortality, and of the coming Judgement.

Quærens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Juste Judex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis,
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

(1) "Pie Iesu Domine, Dona eis requiem." Which means "Holy Lord Jesus, grant them rest."
(2) C. S. Lewis, “Modern Translations of the Bible”, originally published as the introduction to J. B. Phillips’ Letters to Young Christians: A Translation of the New Testament Epistles (1947), later included as the tenth essay in Part II of God in The Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, a posthumous collection of Lewis’ apologetics essays compiled and edited by Walter Hooper and published by William B. Eerdmans of Grand Rapids in 1970.
(3) St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, (180).
(4) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I.13.5. Note that in the Sed Contra, i.e., the part of the article where St. Thomas asserts his own view against the opposing view presented in the Utrum and supported by the Oportets, he seems to affirm the equivocal position. At this point in the article, however, he is using “equivocal” in a general sense that includes the analogous. Later, in the Respondeo Dicens where he fleshes out his argument he distinguishes between a “purely equivocal sense” and an “analogous” sense, affirming the latter rather than the former. Ever an Aristotolean, he describes the analogous sense as a “mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation.” See also John Theodore Mueller in Christian Dogmatics: A Handbook of Doctrinal Theology for Pastors, Teachers, and Laymen, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934), pp.161-162.
(5) The much maligned Lex Talionis, understood properly, is just such a limitation.
(6) The word is οὕτως. For those who know Latin it was rendered “sic” in the Vulgate, not “tantus.”
(7) The Greek word ἱλαστήριον that St. Paul used here was also the word that denoted the Mercy Seat, i.e., the lid of the Ark of the Covenant upon which the high priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood on the Day of Atonement.
(8) “Seeking me, You sat tired, Having suffered the Cross, You have redeemed, Let so much labour not be in vain. Just Judge of vengeance, Make a gift of forgiveness, before the Day of Reckoning. I lament as a guilty one, with shame my face grows red, spare Your supplicant, O God.” – from the Dies Irae.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The False Gospel(s) of the Left

St. Paul, in his farewell address to the Ephesians in Acts 20, said that he had not hesitated “to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (v. 27) The “whole counsel of God”, as the ESV renders this phrase, can be summed up in two messages, the Law and the Gospel. The Gospel is the primary message, and its name means “the good news.” It cannot be understood apart from the message of the Law, which could also be called “the bad news,” not because it is bad in itself (Rom. 7:7) but because it reveals what is bad in us. For this reason it is called the “ministration of death” and of “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3: 7, 9) and all who are under it are said to be under a curse (Gal. 3:10). The Law reveals the aspect of the goodness of God that is called justice, and the perfect righteousness which God in His justice requires of us. To one degree or another, the Law has been communicated to all mankind, having been written in our consciences (Rom. 2:14-15), handed down as a moral code to national Israel in the Covenant of Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20:1-17), and taught in its highest and purest form by Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 5-7). At whatever level we consider it however – conscience, Ten Commandments, or Sermon on the Mount – the Law is only ever bad news for us, because we are incapable of meeting its requirements of righteousness. The Law reveals us to be sinners, and therefore can only accuse and condemn us. It identifies our basic problem of sin, and reveals our basic need of righteousness but can do nothing towards solving that problem and filling that need.

It is the Gospel that meets our need. Whereas the Law is, albeit imperfectly, communicated to us naturally through our consciences, the Gospel is only to be found in the direct revelation of the inspired Holy Scriptures, where it is the main message. Theological liberals claim that the ethical teachings of Jesus – which are simply the highest and purest form of the Law - are the main message of the Christian Scriptures. In doing so they reveal that theological liberalism is not a version of Christianity but of the natural religion of mankind, of which all religions except true Christianity are forms, and which is clearly condemned in the Scriptures. Man’s natural religion is to seek acceptance with God through the Law by doing good works. True Christianity is the religion of the Gospel – the Good News that although, as the Law reveals, we as sinners are incapable of earning God’s acceptance by our works, He freely gives us His acceptance, pardoning all of our sins and declaring us to be fully righteous in His sight, out of His grace – favour that we have neither earned nor deserved – on the grounds of the completed Atonement for sin made by the Saviour Whom He has given. We receive that grace simply by believing in that Saviour as He is presented to us in the Gospel. The Saviour is God’s Only-Begotten Son, Who being true God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity, took our human nature unto Himself when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and became true man. His name is Jesus and He is also called Christ or Messiah, meaning that He is the Anointed Redeemer-King that had been promised since the Fall of mankind. He lived a life of perfect, sinless, righteousness and then, when He was arrested, accused, and convicted of crimes that He had not committed, and condemned to die a cruel death on the cross, He took the guilt of all of the sins of the world upon Himself and voluntarily bore the punishment due those sins, fully satisfying the justice of God. In raising Jesus from the dead, God declared His satisfaction with the Atonement, His reconciliation to the sinful world, and His promise of pardon, justification, everlasting life to all who believe the Gospel of grace.

The two messages of Scripture, Law and Gospel, are both concisely summarized in one verse by the Apostle Paul: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). Or, as Baptist evangelist John R. Rice was fond of paraphrasing it, “if you go to Hell, you pay your own way; but you go to Heaven on a free pass.”

While everyone needs the Good News of the Gospel a great many reject it. They reject the Gospel, because they refuse to accept the verdict of the Law upon themselves, that they are sinners who have earned the just condemnation of God, whose works are unacceptable, and who are therefore in need of the salvation announced and offered in the Gospel. When man refuses to accept God’s diagnosis of his basic problem as sin, he will not accept God’s solution to that problem in the Gospel of grace. He then tries to substitute alternative diagnoses and false gospels.

Everything the Left has ever proposed has been just such a false gospel. At the heart of liberalism, the political philosophy that is the source and foundation of all political leftism, is the rejection of the Law’s diagnosis of the human condition. All of the woes that have afflicted the human race throughout history, liberalism says, come not from sin inside ourselves, but from something external, some defect in our education, our form of government, our system of social organization, our method of producing and distributing wealth, etc. Having substituted these false diagnoses for the true one, liberalism has been devising political solutions to these problems for centuries, wrapping each of them up in the language of salvation. The attempt to put these false gospels into practice has been called the Left since the French Revolution – although it has been around since the Roundhead Puritans of the English Civil Wars. Each one has been a notorious failure.

Republican democratism is the oldest false gospel of the Left. Liberalism falsely diagnosed hereditary, royal, monarchy as the source of the evils of tyranny, despotism, and oppression, and proposed government by elected representatives (republicanism) and/or popular assembly (democratism) as the solution. The Puritan Roundheads, the American and French Revolutionaries, and all Communist revolutionaries have believed this false gospel and it has always failed to deliver in its promise of earthly salvation. The Cromwell Protectorate, the French Reign of Terror, and the Soviet Union and its imitators were all far more tyrannical, despotic and oppressive than the monarchies they replaced. Granted, the Americans did not turn their country into this kind of totalitarian hellhole – at least until the Presidency of Lincoln – nevertheless, the Americans have experienced a far more oppressive burden, both in terms of taxes and intrusive legislation and regulations, under their republican form of government than before their Revolution. Indeed, every Western country in which government authority has been taken out of the hands of royal monarch and placed into the hands of elected politicians has experienced this burden, whether it has officially become a republic or retained its monarch as a figurehead. History has thoroughly discredited this first false Gospel of the left. All false gospels are incompatible with the true Gospel. I am not saying that those who are not royalists are not Christians but it is a blasphemous insult to the King of Kings to attempt to demote Him to President of Presidents.

The next oldest of the Left’s false gospels are capitalism and socialism. Here a qualification is necessary. Capitalism, or economic liberalism as it is more properly called, has often been presented as a false gospel of economic salvation. This is how it appeared in the writings of Frédéric Bastiat and Richard Cobden in the nineteenth century who preached free trade as the path to world peace. It is how it appears in contemporary American neoliberals and neoconservatives who believe the American political and economic systems to be the hope of the world which should be exported to all other countries, by the force of American military might if necessary. The basic elements of economic liberalism, however – the private ownership of property and legal protection of the same, and legally protected freedom to enter into contracts and buy and sell – predate the theories of the economic liberals, indeed, are basic, common-sense facts of human existence, and are upheld by the Law of God (“thou shalt not steal”). They can be held without attaching any salvific significance to them.

Socialism, on the other hand, is ALWAYS a scheme of economic salvation. That is the sine qua non of socialism, its essential nature. Socialism starts by replacing the Law’s diagnosis of sin in the human heart as our basic problem with the idea that the unequal distribution of wealth – and therefore the private ownership of property – is the root of all our ills. It proposes salvation through either the elimination of private property or the government confiscation and redistribution of wealth. Socialism is a complete failure. Those countries unfortunate enough to fall under Communist tyranny, experienced the widespread poverty and misery that socialism, in its purest form, always produces. Western countries have discovered that the partial socialism they have implemented has left them with a choice between spending far beyond their means, crippling their economy, or doing both at once. Socialism is always a false gospel. There is no such thing as “Christian socialism” because the true Gospel cannot be combined with a false gospel. To the extent that a so-called “Christian socialist” is a Christian, he is not a socialist. To the extent that he is a socialist, he is not a Christian.

Feminism is another of the Left’s oldest false Gospels. While many people think of it as a fairly recent phenomenon it goes back to the early nineteenth century. Feminism’s one-word false diagnosis of the human condition is “patriarchy”, a term the roots of which suggest the meaning of “fatherly authority” but which feminism uses to mean a more general male dominance in politics, economics, society, culture and the family. The false gospel that it preaches is “the equality of the sexes”, although feminists often give the impression that “gynocracy” is what they are truly after. While feminism has become far more crazier over the years, to the point that today leading feminists maintain that heterosexuality is an oppressive artificial social construct, that complementing a woman on her looks constitutes “sexual harassment,” that sexual intercourse should be considered “rape” if the woman is dissatisfied and withdraws her consent ex post facto, and that women have the “right” to be believed in whatever accusations they choose to make against men regardless of whether or not there is evidence to substantiate their claims, among other lunatic notions, it has never been in touch with reality but has always been based on sheer fantasy. The implementation of feminism has required bloodshed on a Hitlerian scale (1) and the same adjective might be applied to feminism’s suppression of dissent in academia, government, and most workplaces. While the church has been plagued for decades with “Christian feminists” who oppose the Scriptural doctrine of the headship of the husband/father, who demand the ordination of female clergy against the clear Apostolic teaching, who have mutilated and bowdlerized hymn books, liturgy, and even translations of the Scriptures, with “gender neutral language”, and who in the most extreme cases wish to replace the triune God of Christianity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with some pagan deity they address as Mother/Father God, what was true of “Christian socialism” is also true of “Christian feminism” – to the extent it is the one, it is not the other.

The false gospel of tolerance has been the leading false gospel of the Left since the Second World War. In most Western countries it has assumed the status of an unofficial state religion, and comes with its own redemption story, one which people are not allowed to openly question without severe legal repercussions. Originally, racism was its false diagnosis of the human condition, but it has since been expanded to include other forms of “intolerance” such as “sexism”, “homophobia” and more recently “transphobia.” Needless to say, “tolerance” is the proposed solution. Both “tolerance” and “intolerance” as they are used by the Left, do not correspond very well to their dictionary meanings. “Intolerance” seems to include any negative attitude towards people who differ from you in any discernable way – with the exception of negative attitudes towards white, Christian, heterosexual, males. “Tolerance” has no relationship to its Latin root, which means “to bear or endure” and thus necessarily implies a negative attitude towards its object. At its most benign it seems to mean little more than “be nice to each other, children.” More often, however, it means, “you’re not allowed to think or say that” and resembles the thought control found in Communist countries and the novels of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler.

There is one final false gospel that we will look at. Several decades ago the modern environmentalist movement was born as a synthesis of neo-pagan, pantheistic, nature-worship, feminism and Marxism disguised beneath a thin veneer of ecological science. At its best it promoted things that only a moron would find fault with – such as clean air and water and the preservation of plants, wildlife, and natural beauty. At its worst it called for depopulation through birth control, abortion, state-imposed limits on family size, euthanasia, and suicide. In the late 1970s it began to develop its own apocalyptic, end-of-the-world, doomsday scenario. In this scenario, civilization and life as we know it is on the brink of imminent destruction due to “global warming” or “climate change.” The diagnosis? Mankind’s industrial consumption of fossil fuels over the last two centuries has caused the problem by releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The gospel of salvation? The nations of the world need to agree to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions.

This entire concept of anthropogenic climate change can be summed up in one word: bunk. It does not matter how many ex-American presidents, Hollywood movie stars, or Japanese-Canadian celebrity zoologists promote the idea. It does not require a Ph.D in climatology to understand that if the industrial emissions of greenhouse gasses is responsible for impending disastrous climate change then nothing short of a total return to some sort of pre-industrial society could possibly help. Therefore the climate change treaties, which propose reductions of carbon emissions – not their elimination – accomplish nothing more than allowing the politicians who waste tons of fuel flying around the world to have their picture taken signing these accords to feel good about themselves and to send the message to their voters that they are on top of the “problem.” Of course the entire theory is nonsense. The climate did not start changing in the twentieth century or with the dawn of industrialism but has been changing for all of human history. Other factors have had far greater, more demonstrable, and more immediate effects on global climate than human activity such as the volcanic winters brought about by the nineteenth century eruptions of Mt. Tambora and Krakatoa. Whether the current eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea will have a similar effect remains to be seen. The effects of Justin Trudeau’s self-righteous climate posturing – of which his arrogant carbon tax, his grants to anti-pipeline protesters are but two examples – are already being felt on our country, however, as the Canadians who can least afford it are being forced to pay the price of the former at the gas pumps, and unemployed Canadians are paying the price of the latter.

Political schemes of salvation are counterfeit gospels, of course, regardless of where they are found, Left or Right. Certain movements on the secular Right have demonstrated the same tendency to look upon their political agenda as a plan of salvation as the Left. It is the fundamental nature of the Left, however, to blame man’s problems on everything except the sin in his heart, and to look to politics as the means of salvation. The true Right, the Right of the old Tories, sees politics differently. The Tory Right accepts the doctrine of Original Sin, and that mankind is incapable of regaining Paradise through his own efforts. It sees civil government as being ordained for the ministry of the Law in its use as a curb to restrain evil. (2) The ministry of the Gospel, in Word and Sacrament, belongs to the Church. Government and the Church, with their respective ministries, are neither to be separate nor confused. In liberalism, with its schemes of secular, political, salvation they are both.

(1) William Brennan, The Abortion Holocaust: Today’s Final Solution, (St. Louis: Landmark Press, 1983). The comparison has only become more valid over the last thirty-five years.
(2) In orthodox Protestant theology the Law has three uses – the curb, mirror, and guide. These are also called the first, second, and third uses of the Law but the order is different in Lutheran and Reformed theology. In Lutheran theology the order is as above, in Reformed theology it goes mirror, curb, guide.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Modern Evangelicalism’s Orthodoxy Deficiency

The movement known as evangelicalism within contemporary Protestantism is often considered to be, and often considers itself to be, the conservative or orthodox side of Protestantism. In this essay we shall look at several ways in which its orthodoxy, by both small-c catholic and historical Protestant standards, is appallingly deficient.

The Gospel

If there is anything evangelicalism ought to be orthodox on it is the Gospel. It derives its very name from the Gospel (Greek εὐαγγέλιον – “good news”) thus, advertising itself to the world as a brand of Christianity that is uniquely sound on the Gospel. If we were talking about sixteenth century evangelicalism, the evangelicalism of Luther, Calvin, and the English Reformers (1) then we would indeed be speaking of an evangelicalism that was strong and sound on the Gospel, but this is considerably less true of today’s evangelicalism.

The Gospel is the most important of the two messages of the Holy Scriptures. The other message, the Law, contains God’s commandments as to how we are to live and describes the righteousness He demands from us. The Law is described as a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9) because it can only ever accuse and condemn us, never justify us. It is powerless to produce the righteousness it demands and its primary purpose is to reveal to us that we are hopelessly lost in sin so as to prepare us to receive the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that God provided for our salvation from our lost estate by giving us His Son Jesus Christ to be our Saviour, Who took away our sins by dying for them on the Cross and rose again from the dead.

Many, perhaps most, contemporary evangelicals distort the Gospel message by tacking on to it a call to make a decision, an act of the will, of some sort. The nature of that decision is described by countless expressions, generating much confusion. Examples include “invite Jesus into your heart”, (2) “give your heart – or life – to Christ”, “make a commitment to Christ”, and “accept Jesus Christ.” (3) The response the Scriptural Gospel calls for, however, is not a decision or act of the will of any sort, but belief. Those who believe in Jesus Christ, it declares and promises, have been saved by His death on the Cross, are declared righteous before God on the basis of His death, and possess everlasting life as a free gift. The Gospel declaration that anyone and everyone, without exception who believes in Jesus, is saved by Him, and that only those who so believe are so saved, is repeated well over a hundred times in the New Testament. Contemporary evangelicalism’s preference for non-Scriptural terminology over the simple Bible word “believe” creates confusion at the very least and the potential for misleading people into putting their faith in their own “decision for Christ” instead of in Jesus Christ Himself, as proclaimed in the Gospel message. (4)

Trinitarian and Christological Orthodoxy

God is, in His eternal being, one. In the Scriptures, however, we meet God as a plurality of divine Persons – the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. These Persons are not identical to each other – the Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit – but they are not three Gods either. Nor is it true to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are parts or components of the One God – Whose essence is simple, that is to say, indivisible into subcomponents – but rather the one divine essence is found in its entirety in each Person. There is, of course, a mystery in this, one which we can never fully comprehend as to fully comprehend it would mean that we would be God ourselves, but this is the teaching of the Scriptures, as stated concisely in the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds, and rather more comprehensively in the Athanasian Creed. The doctrine of the unity of the three Divine Persons in the One God has since Tertullian in the third century been called the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Orthodox Trinitarianism, however, is not merely a matter of neither dividing the essential unity of God (as the heresy of Tritheism does) nor confusing the Divine Persons (as the heresy of Sabellianism does), but also affirms the relationships within the Trinity. In orthodox Trinitarianism, the Father is not begotten of any, but possesses the one divine essence in Himself. The Son is begotten of the Father and possesses the divine essence as the Son of the Father. Since, however, He is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, His Generation (having been begotten) of the Father is not an event before which there was any prior moment, but the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but in a different way than the Son since the Son is the only-begotten Son. He is the breath, breathed out by the Father. (5) As with the Generation of the Son, so with the Spiration of the Holy Spirit, this is not an event but an ongoing and eternal relationship.

The Eternal Generation of the Son is clearly affirmed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is affirmed in the words “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all Worlds” and later supported by the word “Begotten not made.” The Sonship of Jesus Christ belongs to His deity, rather than His humanity, and is itself therefore eternal. (6)

There have been several evangelical leaders in the last century who have denied the Eternal Sonship of Christ and taught Incarnational Sonship, the idea that Jesus became the Son of God through His Incarnation. These have included televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, Dr. Walter R. Martin the founder of the Christian Research Institute, author of The Kingdom of the Cults, and the original Bible Answer Man, and, most notoriously, author, pastor, seminary president, and radio Bible teacher, Dr. John F. MacArthur Jr. The latter, to be fair, publicly recanted this viewpoint almost twenty years ago, (7) although it can still be found in his Seminary’s Statement of Faith. (8) Incarnational Sonship treats Jesus’ Sonship as belonging to His humanity, rather than His deity. This, however, undermines the doctrine of the Trinity by hopelessly confusing the Persons. The agent in the Incarnation is clearly identified as the Holy Spirit in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. (9) Making the Incarnation the source of the Sonship of Christ, therefore, confuses the Persons of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Incarnational Sonship is not the only Trinitarian/Christological heresy to rear its head in contemporary evangelicalism. Several years ago the late Dr. R. C. Sproul published a book entitled The Truth of the Cross. (10) In a chapter of that book, that he later posted as a separate article on his ministry’s website (11) he took issue with the words “How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me” from Charles Wesley’s much-loved hymn “And Can It be”. In his efforts to make the obvious point that the divine nature cannot undergo death he crossed the line into the ancient heresy of Nestorianism. “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross” he wrote. The obvious problem with that statement is that Jesus Christ died on the cross and Jesus is Christ is God. Since the Person Who is God died on the cross, albeit in His human rather than His divine nature, it is correct to say that God died on the cross. To deny this is to divide His Person, separate the natures in the Hypostatic Union, and basically treat each nature as a Person, in exactly the way Nestorius did.

It could be argued that this was merely an unusual case of sloppy thinking from an ordinarily precise theologian who was so gung-ho about avoiding one heresy that he inadvertently espoused another without realizing it. Certainly there is no widespread movement in evangelicalism to have Wesley’s hymn expunged from all of our hymnals. There is, however, a broader tendency towards Nestorianism in evangelicalism.

If asked the question “Is Mary the Mother of God?” the average evangelical would probably answer “no.” In defense of his answer he would probably say that God is eternal and had no beginning and therefore has no mother and would likely lump the title “Holy Mother of God” in with the blasphemous titles of Co-Redemptrix and Queen of Heaven, with doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and Assumption, with the practice of praying to Mary and asking her to intercede with her Son Who is Himself called our Intercessor in Scripture, and basically all the trappings of the Roman cult of Mariolatry. Nevertheless, he has given the Nestorian, not the orthodox, answer to the question, which indeed, was the very question at the heart of the Nestorian controversy, long before the Marian cult was started. Nestorius refused to use the title Θεοτόκος (literally God-bearer, but usually rendered “Mother of God” in English) for Mary on the grounds that she was the mother of His humanity not of His deity. While it is certainly true that Mary was not the source of Jesus’ deity, the orthodox position, defended by Cyril of Alexandria and articulated in the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon is that in the One Person of Jesus Christ, the divine and human natures are inseparably joined. Consequently, anything that can be said of either nature can be said of the Whole Person. Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and therefore the Mother of a Person Who is God, and so, while not the source of His deity or a divine person herself, is indeed, the Mother of God. (12)

Heroes of the Faith

Christ’s Apostles knew that the church would be plagued with false prophets and false teachers. St. Paul, when he had summoned the leaders of the church in Ephesus to himself at Miletus, warned them to take heed to themselves and the church because “after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30) He also included warnings against false teachers in many of his epistles, especially the ones addressed to church leaders (1 Tim 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Titus 1:9-16) and wrote an entire epistle to combat the false teachers who were telling the Galatian church that they needed to be circumcised and to follow the Old Testament Law in order to be saved. Similarly, St. Peter devoted most of his second epistle, beginning in the second chapter, to a lengthy warning against false teachers, St. Jude wrote his epistle to combat false teachers, and St. John filled his first and second epistles with warnings against the proto-Gnostic false teachers he dubbed “antiChrists” who denied that Christ is come in the flesh.

It was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who taught His Apostles to beware of false teachers. His Olivet Discourse, towards the very end of His ministry, included a warning against those who would come in His name seeking to deceive, but much earlier in the Sermon on the Mount He had warned:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

By their fruits, that is, their doctrines, the false prophets would be known. This passage comes shortly after Jesus’ warning against judging others (vv. 1-5). This makes it quite ironic that the first response of many contemporary evangelicals, whenever somebody takes Jesus’ warnings against false prophets seriously and points out the deadly heresies in the teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., men widely revered by today’s evangelicals as heroes of the faith, is to unthinkingly, and often hysterically, regurgitate “judge not,” generally in a much more judgmental spirit than the person pointing out the heresy in the first place.

Bonhoeffer and King were both clergymen. Bonhoeffer was a German Luther minister and King was an American Baptist. It is because of their political activities, however, and not their teachings that evangelicals revere them as heroes. Bonhoeffer was a member of the resistance movement against the tyranny of the Third Reich. King was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement that opposed racial segregation in the southern United States. Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis in April of 1943 for smuggling Jews out of Germany. On July 20th of the following year, Operation Valkyrie, which his resistance group had been working on for years, a plan to assassinate Hitler, failed and its chief operative, Claus von Stauffenberg was captured and executed. The following year, Bonhoeffer was executed for his own involvement in the conspiracy. King was assassinated in April of 1968, four years after the American Congress passed the Civil Rights Act for which he had long campaigned.

Whether or not their political activities warrant the esteem in which they are held is not relevant here. (13) Bonhoeffer and King were both liberal theologians. A liberal theologian is not just a theologian who is also a political liberal. A liberal theologian is a theologian whose theology itself has been shaped and formed by the rationalistic, naturalistic, and materialistic assumptions that underlie modern philosophy. Foremost among those assumptions is that everything that occurs in this world in actual history can be fully explained by observable, natural, laws so that events, presented in the Bible as supernatural miracles, either have a natural explanation, or did not occur at all. The liberal theologian, starting with this assumption, regards Christianity as being essentially an ethical religion, rather than a religion of supernatural redemption, although he may borrow the language of redemption albeit redefining it to refer to the reshaping of human society in accordance with progressive ideals. Doctrines such as the deity, virgin birth, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are treated by liberal theologians as later additions to Christianity, non-essential to its basic ethical message, and are either denied outright or redefined in such a way that what is really unbelief (“Jesus body remained in the tomb and was not restored to life”) is disguised as faith (“Jesus rose in that He lives on in the hearts of His followers”)

Liberalism was the theology in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer was indoctrinated at the University of Tubingen and Berlin, and later at Union Theological Seminary in New York where he pursued his post-doctorate studies. It was also the theology with which Martin Luther King Jr. was indoctrinated at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University. Bonhoeffer had never been taught any other kind of theology, unlike King whose father was a much more orthodox preacher. At Union Theological Seminary Bonhoeffer was taught by Reinhold Neibuhr and upon his return to Germany was very much captivated by Karl Barth. Neibuhr and Barth were among the leading neo-orthodox theologians of the time. Neo-orthodox theologians were liberal theologians, who had lost their faith in the tenets of liberalism and were moving in the direction of Creedal orthodoxy, but who usually fell short of actually getting there.

Liberalism is not only the theology Bonhoeffer was taught, it was the theology he taught himself. His most important, and certainly his most widely known, work was his The Cost of Discipleship, first published in German in 1937. Also of importance are the Christological lectures that he delivered at the University of Berlin, where he was lecturer in systematic theology, in 1933, which were later collected by Eberhard Bethge and published under the title Christ the Centre, and his posthumously published Letters and Papers from Prison. In The Cost of Discipleship and his Christology lectures, he questioned the historicity of the virgin birth (14) and resurrection of Jesus Christ, (15) treated the matter of their historicity as of no relevance, and treated the sinlessness of Jesus Christ in the same way. (16) In The Cost of Discipleship his basic thesis is a blasphemous denial of the freeness of the grace of God as proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the proposal that grace is only obtainable through taking up one’s own cross and following the ethnical teachings of Jesus as found in the Sermon on the Mount. (17) Although disguised as a call for repentance, confession of sin, and discipleship to a church that has grown lax on these things, this thesis is ultimately the liberal idea that the essence of Christianity is found in the ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and that everything else in secondary at best, accidental and a distraction from the ethical message at worst. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he expressed a preference for the Old Testament over the New on the grounds that it was this-worldy and not a religion of redemption looking to the next life, (18) and when he took exception to Rudolf Bultmann’s project of demythologizing the New Testament (19) it was not from the standpoint of orthodoxy, but from the point of view that Bultmann did not go far enough (20). Recent efforts to portray Bonhoeffer as some sort of conservative, orthodox, evangelical (21) are, to say the least, grossly misleading. (22)

The theology of Martin Luther King Jr. was no more orthodox than Bonhoeffer’s. He thoroughly rejected the doctrine of the Atonement as legal, penal, substitution that was so vital to the doctrine of justification as taught by St. Paul (2 Cor. 5:21) and the Reformers, and dismissed any view of the Atonement as “the triumph of Christ over such cosmic powers as sin, death, and Satan” as “inadequate”. (23) He dismissed the doctrines of “a supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ” as “ancient ideas” that are “contrary to science” and which only “fundamentalists” wish to preserve. (24) He outright denied the deity (25) and virgin birth (26) of Jesus Christ, and reinterpreted His resurrection in a non-literal way. (27) Evangelicals who regard King as a Christian hero will sometimes, when presented with this evidence, posit that he changed his views and become more orthodox (28) but there is a dearth of evidence to support the idea that King, who continued to identify as a theological liberal, ever embraced Biblical and Creedal orthodoxy.

More often, however, the evangelical response is to sputter and fume and throw out “judge not” in a most judgmental manner, and basically demonstrate to all and sundry that keeping their idols, Bonhoeffer and King, (29) is more important to them than earnestly contending for the faith once delivered unto the saints against the antichrist deceivers who come in Christ’s name, but have not the Apostolic doctrine of Christ.

(1) This excludes the heresies of Anabaptism and English Puritanism, both of which also emerged out of the sixteenth century Reformation, but which retreated from the Gospel as recovered by the early Reformers, into forms of works-salvation that were even more legalistic than the Romanism against which the Reformers protested.

(2) Revelation 3:20 is cited as justification for this terminology but this verse is addressed to a church not to prospective converts.

(3) This last is the only of these with any real Scriptural warrant for being included in the Gospel, John 1:12, but those who “received Him” in this verse did so not by an exercising their will and making a decision but by believing in His name.

(4) Several evangelicals within the “Reformed” theological tradition have thought that the answer to the error of decisionism was a return to the teachings of Puritanism. This, however, is merely a return to the source of the error for Puritanism was the original decisionism. It departed from the teachings of the early Reformers by teaching that the difference between saving and non-saving faith was not merely its object but also that the former included repentance in the sense of a decision to abandon all sin and obey God fully, and that the genuineness of one’s repentance and therefore one’s faith could be known, even by the believer himself, only by seeing its fruit in a life of devoted piety. This is the reverse of the Scripturally orthodox view, held by the sixteenth century Reformers, that the only difference between saving and non-saving faith is that the former has Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel, as its object, that repentance is not an act of the will at all but the revelation, worked in the soul by the Law, of one’s own utter sinfulness, and that it cannot save apart from the faith produced by the Gospel, which faith looks to Jesus Christ and not to itself, to one’s own repentance, or to the outworking of faith and repentance in the life of the believer. Among those who to varying degrees have prescribed the neo-Puritan cure to evangelical decisionism that is worse than the disease itself, have been J. I. Packer, John F. MacArthur Jr., James Montgomery Boice, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, John H. Gerstner, R. C. Sproul, John R. W. Stott, D. A. Carson and A. W. Pink.

(5) The technical theological term for this is spiration. Note that the Eastern church and Western church have been divided for a thousand years over whether the Spirit proceeds (is breathed out) by the Father only (the Eastern position), or the Father and the Son (the Western position).

(6) Jesus’ enemies certainly understood His claim to a unique Sonship to be a claim to deity. See His interaction with them at the end of both the eighth and tenth chapters of the Gospel according to St. John.

(7) John F. MacArthur Jr., “Reexamining the Eternal Sonship of Christ”, first released by its author in September 1999, later published in Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Vol. 6, No. 1, (2001) pp. 21-23.

(8) The Master’s Seminary, Doctrinal Statement, God The Son, sixth paragraph. “We teach that, in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity laid aside His right to the full prerogatives of coexistence with God, assumed the place of a Son” (italics added).

(9) Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35. The latter verse has been taken as supporting Incarnational Sonship because of the “therefore” clause. This clause can mean either a) Jesus is the Son of God because His conception was caused miraculously by the Holy Spirit or b) the miraculous conception wrought by the Holy Spirit was the appointed means whereby the Divine Person Who was the Son of God from eternity past would take human nature to Himself and enter the world. Only the latter meaning is acceptable, because meaning a) leads to the heresy of Sabellianism.

(10) R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, (Sanford, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007).


(12) This demonstrates the extent to which Puritan and Anabaptist thinking have permeated contemporary evangelicalism. These movements, which believed that the Magisterial Reformation had not gone far enough in its reforms, thought that anything with the slightest sense of “Rome” to it should be done away. In this case, sound Christology was sacrificed in the process.

(13) Bonhoeffer certainly does not deserve the status of “martyr” he is often awarded for his actions, however one chooses to regard them, since he was put to death for his political actions and not his faith. Perhaps the awarding of martyr status to clergymen put to death for reasons other than their beliefs should be called “cheap martyrdom”? The evaluation of King’s career depends entirely upon whether one considers de jure integration to be better than de jure segregation. The Jim Crow laws, which were an example of the latter, were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States of America in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, one year prior to the Montgomery Bus Boycott which put King in the spotlight and launched his career as a Civil Rights activist. Obviously, the SCUSA decision did not immediately put an end to the practice of segregation, but the American federal government was already prepared to enforce the Court’s decision, and it was this, not the actions of King, that ultimately killed Jim Crow. King’s biggest accomplishment was the passing of the US Civil Rights Act, which rather than merely abolishing de jure segregation, established de jure integration in certain situations. That this was the great leap forward in justice and race relations that progressive dogma insists that it was is highly debatable.

(14) He said “We should speak not of God becoming human but of the God who became human, for the former is a “how” question, to be found in the old doctrine of the virgin birth. The biblical witness is uncertain with regard to the virgin birth. If the biblical witness really gave this as a fact, the dogmatic lack of clarity about it would have nothing to say. The doctrine of the virgin birth is supposed to express how God becomes human. But does it not result in the decisive point being missed, that Jesus became like us? This question remains open, because the Bible leaves it open.” This is the translation from Clifford J. Green, Michael DeJonge, eds, The Bonhoeffer Reader, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013). The translation in the older Christ the Centre is slightly different, but the difference does not affect what is theologically objectionable here. Bonhoeffer does not outright deny the virgin birth, but he subtly undermines it by suggesting that it conflicts with what he sees as the “point” of the Incarnation that “God became like us” (we aren’t virgin born). Read Genesis 3 and see if that kind of reasoning reminds you of anyone in that chapter. At any rate, it would undoubtedly come as a surprise to St. Matthew and St. Luke to learn that the Bible, to which they contributed two of the Gospels, leave this question “open”.

(15) The subtlety with which this is done exceeds even that of his remarks on the virgin birth. The first paragraph of his chapter on “Baptism” in The Cost of Discipleship, begins by noting that while the Synoptic Gospels stress Jesus’ disciples following Him, St. Paul has little to say about His earthly ministry in His epistles, stressing instead “the presence of the risen and glorified Christ and his work in us.” Bonhoeffer then goes on in the rest of the paragraph to argue that the language of Paul and the Synoptic Evangelists confirm and complement, rather than contradict each other, and that “Our faith rests upon the unity of the Scriptural testimony.” This sounds very orthodox, but in the note that accompanies this paragraph Bonhoeffer say that “if we take the statement that Christ is risen and present as an ontological statement, it inevitably dissolves the unity of the Scriptures, for it leads us to speak of a mode of Christ’s presence which is different e.g. from that of the synoptic Jesus.” Later in the note he says “The assertion that Christ is risen and present, is, when taken strictly as a testimony given in the Scriptures, true only as a word of the Scriptures.” What is the difference between the resurrection as an “ontological statement” and the resurrection as “a word of the Scriptures?” Bonhoeffer leaves this rather ambiguous in The Cost of Discipleship but in his earlier Christological lectures he had argued against tying faith in the resurrection to the news of the empty tomb. He said: “Between humiliation and exaltation lies oppressively the stark historical fact of the empty tomb. What is the meaning of the news of the empty tomb, before the news of the resurrection? Is it the deciding fact of Christology? Was it really empty? Is it the visible evidence, penetrating the incognito, of the Sonship of Jesus, open to everyone and therefore making faith superfluous? If it was not empty, is then Christ not risen and our faith futile? It looks as though our faith in the resurrection were bound up with the news of the empty tomb. Is our faith then ultimately only faith in the empty tomb? This is and remains, a final stumbling block, which the believer in Christ must learn to live with in one way or another. Empty or not empty, it remains a stumbling block. We cannot be sure of its historicity.” John W. de Gruchy, ed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991) pp. 122-123. What Bonhoeffer is saying here is that the “truth” of the resurrection is found in our experience of Christ through faith, and that this is independent of the question of whether it occurred as an historical event or not. Note that again, Bonhoeffer does not outright deny that the resurrection was a historical event, he just makes its historicity irrelevant to its “truth” as an item of faith. This is the same distinction he was making, under the cover of technical philosophical terminology, in the note to The Cost of Discipleship. St. Paul, who provided a long list of then-living witnesses to the resurrection, in the chapter in which he argued that if Christ is not risen our faith is in vain, had the exact opposite opinion of the importance of the historicity of the resurrection to that of Bonhoeffer.

(16) Bonhoeffer said “Simply stating the sinlessness of Jesus fails if it is based on the observable acts of Jesus. His acts take place in the homoioma sarkos. They are not sinless, but ambiguous. One can and should see both good and failure in them.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology, (London: Collins, 1966, 1978) p. 113. As we have seen above in divorcing the Christ of faith from historical fact, Bonhoeffer had not outright denied the virgin birth and resurrection, but here he outright denies the impeccability of Jesus as a historical reality. After throwing out a quotation from Kierkegaard that does not mean what he thought it meant, Bonhoeffer went on to say “We should not therefore deduce the sinlessness of Jesus out of his deeds. The assertion of the sinlessness of Jesus in his deeds is not an evident moral judgement, but an assertion of faith that it is he who performs these ambiguous deeds, he it is who is in eternity without sin.” Orthodoxy has always recognized that truth is greater than mere fact and cannot be reduced to what we know through history and science. Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodoxy borrows this terminology, but inverts it, so divorcing what it considers to be the “truth” known existentially by “faith” from fact, as to make it less than mere facts rather than more.

(17) In the first chapter of the book, entitled “Costly grace”, which introduced both that expression and the expression “cheap grace” to the world, Bonhoeffer consistently fails to distinguish between the results of grace in the life of the believer and the terms of obtaining grace, or to recognize the difference between a gift that is freely given and received, and a commodity sold on the cheap. The grace of God is given to men freely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the Gospel. Something that is given freely as a gift is not paid for by the recipient. This does not make it “cheap” because the cost of it has been paid by the Giver. Indeed, the price God paid for the grace that He freely gives us was so high, the death and shed bled of His only-begotten Son, that it could only ever be given as a free gift because to offer anything at all in exchange, is to insult the Giver. Bonhoeffer’s blasphemous terminology was enthusiastically embraced by John F. MacArthur Jr. in his 1988 book The Gospel According to Jesus, a critique of decisionism that prescribed Puritanism as the solution. While MacArthur like Bonhoeffer believes in the unity of the Scriptural testimony, and unlike Bonhoeffer believes the truth of that testimony to include historical veracity, in practice, the methodology of his book is to interpret all of the Gospel of John’s many promises of everlasting life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus as shorthand summaries of all the demands Jesus made of His followers in the Synoptic Gospels. This tortured methodology reveals that underneath MacArthur’s and Bonhoeffer’s profession of faith in the unity of the Scriptural testimony, lies the liberal assumption that the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels is a more authentic, more historical, Jesus than the Jesus of John’s Gospel, and since the liberal way of dealing with this assumption (treating John’s Gospel as a later, theological, treatise about Jesus that reflects Pauline theology more than the historical Jesus) is not available to either MacArthur or Bonhoeffer because of their assertion of the unity of the Scriptural testimony, this sort of pseudo-exegesis becomes necessary.

(18) He wrote “In contrast to the other oriental religions, the faith of the Old Testament is not a religion of redemption. But Christianity has always been regarded as a religion of redemption. But isn’t this a cardinal error, which separates Christ from the Old Testament and interprets him according to the redemption myths?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reginald Fuller trans, Letters and Papers From Prison, (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 336.

(19) Rudolf Bultmann was Professor of New Testament at the University of Marsburg. Bultmann was noted for an approach to the New Testament that could be described as the opposite of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” approach, discussed by Albert Schweitzer in the work of that title, while accepting the same heretical presuppositions that many of the events of the New Testament did not historically take place. The “Quest for the Historical Jesus” approach, was the attempt, based upon this heretical presupposition, to distill from the New Testament as a whole the words and acts of Jesus that are genuinely historical. Bultmann believed this to be a waste of time, arguing that what mattered instead was the kerygma of the Christian faith, i.e., the message it proclaims to the world, and that it is this that should be distilled from the New Testament through a process he called “demythologization”, i.e., removing the miraculous elements.

(20) This was in his May 5th, 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge. He wrote “You probably remember Bultmann's essay on ‘demythologizing the New Testament.’ My opinion of it today would be that he went not ‘too far,’ as most people thought, but rather not far enough. It's not only ‘mythological’ concepts like miracles, ascension, and so on (which in principle can't be separated from concepts of God, faith, etc.!) that are problematic, but ‘religious’ concepts as such. You can't separate God from the miracles (as Bultmann thinks); instead, you must be able to interpret and proclaim them both ‘nonreligiously.’ Bultmann's approach is still basically liberal (that is, it cuts the gospel short), whereas I'm trying to think theologically. What then does it mean to ‘interpret religiously’? It means, in my opinion, to speak metaphysically, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, individualistically. Neither way is appropriate, either for the biblical message or for people today.” In the rest of the letter he made it clear that to “speak metaphysically” means to speak in terms of a world beyond this one. He was thus reiterating one of Nietzsche’s major objections to Christianity, i.e., its other-wordliness, and calling for the basic Christian “concepts of repentance, faith, justification, rebirth and sanctification” to be “reinterpreted in a ‘worldly’ way” which he speaks of as “the Old Testament sense.” Nietzsche too, preferred the Old Testament to the New, and for the same reason, but he had the honesty not to pretend that his thinking was compatible with Christianity. The influence of Nietzsche’s thinking is quite apparent in Bonhoeffer’s prison letters. He also wrote “God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God.” Bonhoeffer has here taken the “God is dead” concept from The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it refers to the idea that reason and science have made faith in the Christian God unavailable to the modern world, and blended it with the Christian concept of the suffering and death of Christ on the cross, in a way that is utterly heretical (there is certainly nothing in the New Testament that hints at the idea that God is teaching us to get along without Him) and which anticipates the later heresies of Harvey Cox, Paul van Buren, and John A. T. Robinson. Further, Bonhoeffer’s rejection of speaking “individualistically” here cannot be understood in a political sense, a rejection of liberalism’s placing the individual ahead of the community. He makes it clear that by speaking “individualistically” he means speaking in terms of personal salvation. Bonhoeffer’s “religionlessness”, therefore, is worlds-of-meaning separate, from what Fritz Ridenour had in mind when he wrote How to Be Christian Without Being Religious. Ridenour’s separation of religion from Christianity is itself an absurdity, but it does not contain the heterodoxy of Bonhoeffer’s, and at any rate is a subject for another essay.

(21) Foremost among these is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, with its John le Carresque title, by Eric Metaxas, which was published by Thomas Nelson in 2010. This book won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s “Christian Book of the Year” award for that year, and became a New York Times bestseller. Timothy J. Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, wrote the Foreword. Metaxas and Keller are both men who ought to have known better.

(22) The Myth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Is His Theology Evangelical? by California State University history professor Richard Weikart, is not a response to Metaxas having been first published by International Scholars Publications in 1997, thirteen years prior to Metaxas’ book. Weikart’s review of Metaxas’ book, entitled “Metaxas’s Counterfeit Bonhoeffer” is available on the California State University’s website:

(23) “A View of the Cross Possessing Biblical and Spiritual Justification”, submitted by Martin Luther King Jr. to Crozer Theological Seminary for the two-term course “Christian Theology for Today” that he took in his second year in the Seminary (1949-1950). Found in Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker, and Penny A. Russell eds, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume I: Called to Serve, January 1929-June 1951, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1992). King based his dismissal of these views on the idea that “this dualistic view is incompatible with a thoroughgoing Christian theism”, confusing the heresy of dualism, in which Satan and evil are elevated to eternal forces equal and opposite to God, with the presence of sin, death, and Satan in the created and fallen world. He rejected the Pauline/Reformers doctrine of the Atonement, as well as Anselm’s and Grotius’, on the grounds of “the abstract and impersonal way” that this type of doctrine “deals with such ideas as merit, guilt and punishment; {the guilt of others and the punishment} due them are transferred to Christ and borne by him.” He outright denied that merit or guilt “can be detached from one person and transferred to another” and condemned the idea that someone can be “punished in place of another” as “immoral.” He embraced liberalism’s “moral influence” theory of the Atonement as “best adapted to meet the needs of the modern world.” In this theory, the Atonement is a revelation of the “sacrificial love of God” which inspires us to love God in return. It is this theory, however, that is inadequate, because apart from the aspect of the Atonement that King denies, that it satisfies the justice of God as the basis of the pardon and justification of the sinner, the “sacrificial love of God” could hardly be revealed in the Crucifixion. As for the idea that satisfaction theories of the Atonement are “impersonal”, anyone who has found peace with God in Christ and His Cross through faith in God’s having taken our sins upon Himself, will recognize this as the blasphemous absurdity that it is.

(24) “The Source of Fundamentalism and Liberalism Considered Historically and Psychologically”, submitted by Martin Luther King Jr. to Crozer Theological Seminary for the same course as above, and found in the same volume of his collected papers. The final paragraph in its entirely reads “Others [sic] doctrines such as a supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ are all quite prominent [sic] in fundamentalist thinking. Such are the views of the fundamentalist and they reveal that he is oppose to theological adaptation to social and cultural change. He sees a progressive scientific age as a retrogressive spiritual age. Amid change all around he was {is} willing to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science.” Note that while the fundamentalism that King discussed in this paper was and is a distinct movement within Protestantism, the doctrines he dismisses here are not distinctives of fundamentalism as a movement as, for example, Darbyite eschatology would be. A supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, and the second coming of Christ are found in the Apostles, Nicene-Constantinopolitan, and Athanasian Creeds, and are affirmed by all orthodox Christians, just as the substitutionary theory of the Atonement is affirmed by all orthodox Protestants.

(25) In his paper, “The Humanity and Divinity of Jesus”, again submitted by Martin Luther King Jr to Crozer Theological Seminary for the second term of the same course as above, and found in the same volume of his writings, King affirmed the full humanity of Jesus (which is sound) but affirmed only “the presence of the divine dimension within him”, an “element in his life which transcends the human” which is unsound because it falls short of an affirmation of his full deity. Indeed, the word deity appears nowhere in the paper, only the word divinity, which is itself often an indicator of liberal theology. King offered the following as a summary of the orthodox Christian view of the divinity of Jesus: “The more orthodox Christians have seen his divinity as an inherent quality metaphysically bestowed. Jesus, they have told us, is the Pre existent [sic] Logos. He is the word made flesh. He is the second person of the trinity. He is very God of very God, of one substance with the Father, who for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate be the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.” He then proceeded to reject this viewpoint. “Certainly this view of the divinity of Christ presents many modern minds with insuperable difficulties. Most of us are not willing to see the union of the human and divine in a metaphysical incarnation. Yet amid all of our difficulty with the pre existent [sic] idea and the view of supernatural generation, we must come to some view of the divinity of Jesus.” His own liberal view of the divinity of Christ he stated as follows “We may find the divinity of Christ not in his substantial unity with God, but in his filial consciousness and in his unique dependence upon God. It was his felling [sic] of absolute dependence on God, as Schleiermaker [sic] would say, that made him divine. Yes it was the warmnest [sic] of his devotion to God and the intimatcy [sic] of his trust in God that accounts for his being the supreme revelation of God. All of this reveals to us that one man has at last realized his true divine calling: That of becoming a true son of man by becoming a true son of God. It is the achievement of a man who has, as nearly as we can tell, completely opened his life to the influence of the divine spirit.” The orthodox doctrine of the full deity of Jesus Christ, i.e., that He is “very God of very God”, or, as King put it, that He “is divine in an ontological sense”, King dismissed as “harmful and detrimental” on the grounds that in his, that is King’s, view, we can all become as divine as Jesus by following His example (this is NOT what the Greek Fathers meant by theosis) and the idea that Jesus possesses full deity as part of His essential Being is a discouragement to making the attempt.

(26) In the paper “What Experiences of Christians Living in the Early Christian Century Led to the Christian Doctrines of the Divine Sonship of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Bodily Resurrection” which Martin Luther King Jr. submitted to Crozer Theological Seminary in the first term of the same course as the above, and found in the same volume of his collected works, King said of the virgin birth “This doctrine gives the modern scientific mind much more trouble than the first, for it seems downright improbable and even impossible for anyone to be born without a human father” as if the pre-modern mind thought it an ordinary, everyday occurrence. He went on to “admit that the evidence for the tenability of this doctrine is to shallow to convince any objective thinker” and to raise the standard liberal arguments against it. He argued that the early Christians, influenced by the Greek idea that “an extraordinary person could only be explained by saying that he had a father who was more than human” used the pre-scientific concept of a virgin birth to explain the “uniqueness of quality and spirit” that they had witnessed within Jesus. “We of this scientific age” he then said “will not explain the birth of Jesus in such unscientific terms, but we will have to admit with the early Christians that the spiritual uniqueness of Jesus stands as a mystery to man.”

(27) In the same paper referred to in the previous note, King said of the Resurrection that “This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death” but that “From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions” and “In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting.” Albert Henry Ross, who under the penname Frank Morison wrote the book Who Moved the Stone? (1930) arguing for the historicity of the Resurrection after attempting to write against it and finding the evidence was otherwise, would beg to differ. At any rate, King went on to take the same position as Bonhoeffer, that “the external evidence is not the most important thing.” The early Christians, he argued, through living with Jesus “had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality” which experience “led to the faith that he could never die” which, again in “the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century” took the “outward form” of the doctrine of the Resurrection. Like Bonhoeffer, King saw the “truth” of the Resurrection as to be found in a faith experience of Christ as living that is completely independent of whether He actually rose from the dead in real space and time.

(28) Granted that all the papers cited in the previous five notes were submitted for the same second year seminary course, it is still up to those claiming that he later embraced more orthodox views to provide evidence of this change. There is evidence that he moved closer to neo-orthodoxy – the theology of Karl Barth, Reinhold Neibuhr, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – while studying at Boston University after Crozer Theological Seminary, but so far nobody has been able to provide evidence that he repudiated the views presented in the above papers and embraced true Creedal orthodoxy. His sermons read like liberal/Marxist political addresses barely disguised as Christian moral theology than faithful expositions of the doctrines of the Christian faith.

(29) Herman J. Otten, who pastored the Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri from 1958 to 2013, published many articles in his Christian News newspaper over the years that pointed out the deadly heresies of both Bonhoeffer and King. Seven years ago he published a valuable collection of these in book form. Herman J. Otten, ed., Bonhoeffer and King: Their Life and Theology Documented in Christian News 1963-2011, (New Haven: Lutheran News Inc., 2011).